MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

October 31, 2013

State Muslim leader barred from police training seminar

Lawmaker behind counterterrorism session says he’s not invited

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The head of a Muslim advocacy group in Oklahoma said Thursday he has been banned from attending a police training seminar at the state Capitol that the group says includes speakers who have engaged in anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Adam Soltani, director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, told him via email that the event on Friday was open only to law enforcement and “invited members of the public.”

“As you are neither, we must respectfully deny your request to attend,” Bennett wrote in the email.

A news release earlier this week from House staff indicated the seminar entitled “Iran, Hezbollah and the Drug Cartels: Counterterrorism Considerations” was open to the public. The seminar, which is being held in the chamber of the House of Representatives, is sponsored by the Oklahoma House’s Counterterrorism Caucus, an informal group formed by Bennett, a Marine Corps veteran and fierce critic of sharia law.

Bennett said Thursday the press release shouldn’t have said the public was invited and that he told Soltani he couldn’t attend because the seminar was full.

“This is a law enforcement seminar to educate law enforcement officials,” he said. “It’s definitely not a minority rights issue.”

Soltani has called on the Oklahoma’s Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training to withdraw its accreditation for the course for Oklahoma law enforcement officers. He said he plans to attend Friday’s event anyway, accompanied by an attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union, to find out whether the speakers engage in anti-Islamic rhetoric.

“We have every right to be there, from what we understand,” Soltani said. “Nobody should be barred access to a building that belongs to the people of Oklahoma.”

Among the scheduled speakers Friday are Frank Gaffney, the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and a top proponent of the claim there is a global conspiracy by Muslim leaders and institutions to overthrow the U.S. government and replace the Constitution with Islamic religious law.

House Speaker T.W. Shannon said Friday he was unaware of the controversy and directed questions about it to Bennett.

“He has the authority to invite who he wants to invite,” said Shannon, R-Lawton.

“I have no knowledge of who he invited or didn't invite. He didn't invite me.”

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